Weekly Devotional

Let Us Sing to the Lord – A Sabbath Selah Devotional

let us sing to the lord devotional image

I wrote this devotional for last week, but the day I was going to publish it, I got a call about my brother.

He’s been struggling with cancer, and now it isn’t looking so good.

Two days after, I woke up to another call that my toddler nephew has had a severe medical emergency, and we don’t know why.

I suppose it’s just more proof of why I need this weekly devotional as much as anyone.

I’ve been aching. Weeping like I haven’t for a decade. I hate even writing that sentence because I just wish it would all just go away. Poof. Just kidding! Everything’s fine. But it’s not fine. It’s awful.

Yet I look at Scripture and this is what it says.

“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” – Psalm 95:1-2

So. . . we sing.

Because heavy hearts are weighed further by heavy thoughts.

But joyful thanksgiving lifts even the darkest of spirits.

At times, in the throes of depression, all our singing of the glories of God may not trickle deep enough through to fog for us to feel the uplift we long for.

But if his wonders and beauty and grace and forgiveness and presence and faithfulness and good gifts (life, joy, love, peace, goodness) aren’t enough to sing about, what do we even believe in?

No, we are Christians because we believe God is infinitely good, whether we can feel him or not.

And our active choice to worship and give thanks to the Lord always has a real spiritual effect. If we do not feel the extent of it now, we trust and have come to know through experience that he will reward us for putting our trust in him despite this.

Still, in many cases, taking time to praise him with joyful songs, and to offer thanksgiving, is the resolution we long for, the salve to our pain, the comfort in our affliction.

Because it is not just the words we speak, but also the way that we speak them.

It is not just the songs that we sing, but the way that we pour our hearts through them.

It is not just the actions we choose, but also the motivation behind them.

“For forty years I loathed that generation

    and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart,

    and they have not known my ways.’

Therefore I swore in my wrath,

    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” – Psalm 95:10-11

He warns us here that if we consistently let our hearts go astray from this central focus on his glory, we will not know him, and will not experience his rest.

Yet in Psalm 127, we are also promised that:

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

We are his beloved children.

He gives us rest in him. He is the giver, and we are the one who accepts his gift.

So he invites us to take joy in praising him.

“As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?”

The time is now.

As you read this, you have time to bend your heart in thankful praise and worship toward the Lord who has given you and me all things.

Meet with him in your inward being, because he is calling you to himself!

Drink from his well, and be satisfied.

Sing!

Let’s pray.

PRAYER

Praises, Lord! We praise you! With everything we have, we praise you. Help us to feel the intensity of your goodness. Be with us, fill us with your Spirit, comfort us, and thank you for your faithfulness, and for supplying our every need. Thank you for taking time to supply us, so that we are pushed to be patient in spending our lives with you. And thank you for your patience with us. Amen.

DIG DEEPER

Sing a few songs in your personal prayer time. God knows I need to.

Let Us Not Grow Weary of Doing Good – A Sabbath Selah Devotional

let us not grow weary of doing good devotional image

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9

I have the hardest time with consistency.

Anything that I have to do over and over, every day or week, frustrates me.

Like mowing the lawn. Or making the bed. Or doing the dishes.

If I think too much about how those tasks will be calling for me again shortly after they’re finished – it’s enough to put me in a bad mood.

Yet God calls us to consistency.

The kind of consistency that goes to work every day and faithfully punches in. The kind of consistency that does a good job even when you don’t want to.

And he himself modeled consistency in his perfect life and his dedication to prayer and service.

So, what is our motivation to remain consistent?

Our hope in Christ: a pure life in joy with him forever.

We can only experience that joyful, full life with him now or in eternity by keeping our hearts consistently focused on him.

The Bible refers to this long-term, consistent trajectory as steadfastness.

And steadfastness is a fruit of the spirit. What does that mean?

It means that steadfastness is something we cannot manufacture in ourselves.

Instead, the Spirit of God grows steadfastness in us as we spend time in prayer with others, worshipping him, reading his Word, and bending our lifestyles to his will.

These activities are referred to as spiritual disciplines for a reason: they don’t always give immediate gratification.

Rather, they are lifestyle choices we make because we know that they please God, that they nourish us spiritually, and that we cannot remain walking in step with the Spirit of Christ for long without them.

God knew that there would be times when we would grow tired, and be tempted to stop doing the good that he has commanded us to do.

He also knew that the spiritual weariness itself would eventually pass. And that it would be salved by the respite we receive from prayer, worship, and time with others.

But have any of you experienced the increasing weariness that comes with throwing up your hands and giving up?

You find yourself spiritually tired, and you don’t want to live up to the standards God has given.

So you say, “What’s the use? I might as well just give up.”

But what happens?

You grow twice as weary.

Not only that, you become bogged down with hollow, heavy guilt, and feelings of inadequacy and loneliness surround you as your sinful attitude and behavior drives a wedge between you and God.

If you feel you should be spending more time with God, or that you should be making changes to your lifestyle or schedule, don’t let your emotions push you away from him in this moment.

He longs for you to run to him.

And he promises that he will reward you.

He’ll comfort you.

He will be your rest.

He will satisfy you like water satisfies a thirsty man in a desert.

And your weariness and weakness will not last.

Because as you surrender, and bend your heart and spirit toward God, his Spirit will build you up.

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” – Colossians 4:2

“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 3:5

“for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:3-4

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” – James 1:12

Let’s pray.

PRAYER

Thank you, Lord, for your consistency! You are always there for us. You always fulfill your promises. And you are always working in us. So, we surrender to your will, Lord. And our hearts long for intimate relationship with you! Make us strong by your Spirit, to obey you, and to please you with everything we say, think, and do. Amen.

DIG DEEPER

What is one thing that you are really bad at being consistent with? Share with someone you trust, and ask them to hold you accountable to make a very specific change to combat that.

Baseball, Bumblebees, and Politics – A Sabbath Selah Devotional

One day, a child was playing with a baseball bat in the yard while his parents were off in the distance near the trees.

The boy threw a baseball into the air and struck it.

For a moment, he was worried it would hit his parents, whom he loved very much. Instead, it went into the trees.

Relieved, he waved to his parents, who saw him and smiled.

Then, suddenly, the father started beating the boy’s mother.

He was whacking her all over, and she was screaming, and they both fell to the ground.

But the father KEPT ON beating the mother.

Then the father got up and jerked her arm hard, dragging her away.

The boy stood wide-eyed in horror.

Then he gathered his wits and ran toward them, screaming, “Stop it! Stop hurting my mommy!”

He lifted his baseball bat, and came at his father, ready to protect his mother. . .

The only problem was that his father was not beating his mother.

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Smashing Idols with Abram – A Sabbath Selah Devotional

smashing idols devotional image

As I write my next novel based on the early life of Abram, I’m struck by the fact that a man born to an idolater in a pagan city in ancient Mesopotamia would somehow serve the one true God.

The Bible does not explain how this came to be.

Like much of the Genesis narrative, it leaves many of the central questions unanswered.

But for Abram, at least, we’re not left without clues from other potential sources. (Albeit dubious clues.)

Because Abram is a central figure in three of the world’s main religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

As I’ve studied the different traditions surrounding Abram’s life, I’ve found some very interesting stories, along with some extremely strange ones that are hard for me to believe.

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Eat the Bible – A Sabbath Selah Devotional

eat the Bible devotional

Is the Bible really that important to our practical lives?

First, let me affirm that the above question is a stupid one. But before we get to why, let me show some reasons for why I asked it repeatedly for most of my life.

In a previous devotional (read it here), I shared how I used to lack an emotional connection to the Bible. It seemed useful for head-knowledge, but I doubted that it really changed anyone’s lifestyle because it never really trickled down into the engine of my life: my heart.

That made reading the Bible a chore. One that took so much work that it made my brain buzz (anyone else know that feeling?).

So, to fit my bias against reading the Bible, I invented hypothetical situations to “test” my “ideas.”

I considered a man locked up in jail for being a Christian. Surely a persecuted Christian who is not allowed a Bible but has all the time in the world to pray can grow spiritually and do well without a copy of Scripture. Right?

And speaking of persecuted Christians, what about those in areas like Iran, Eritrea, North Korea, or Bhutan, which are violently opposed to Christ followers? Surely the fact that they are not allowed a Bible would not be a hopeless crippling of their spiritual lives. Right?

I mean, God couldn’t let something like that happen. Right?

The only problem was, I tried to live a spiritually healthy life without reading the Bible, and failed miserably.

And I mean crash and burn and suffer third-degree curled toenails sort of failure.

You can’t get much deader than dead, and I was spiritually dead.

So, out of desperation, my brilliant brain designed another test.

Perhaps I should read the Bible consistently over a longer period of time to see if it really did its thing.

After all, not reading the Bible wasn’t helping, so perhaps reading it would do what everyone said it would.

But what part would I read first?

Now this is an important question. Different parts of the Bible achieve different purposes. Now more than ever, I think that this is a vital truth to be aware of.

If you go into Leviticus expecting to be lifted up and taught how to become an elder in the New Testament church, you’ll be disappointed.

Now, a theologian can show you Christ all over the Scriptures. But each book of Scripture differs in its goals.

So, when I started reading the Epistles, they helped me understand theology, my relationship to God, and how to respond to his offer of redemption and purification.

The book of Psalms showed me how to pray, and taught my heart the right attitude to approach God with.

Proverbs showed me the wisdom of the pure that has transcended generational boundaries for millennia.

The Gospels showed me the person of Jesus, and the depth of his experience on earth.

And Genesis showed me our origins, and the complicated relationship humanity has had to God from the beginning.

And the more I read, the more I realized the Bible was changing me.

Because reading the Bible actually is a necessity for spiritual growth.

The Bible is how God has revealed himself to us in this age, and given us the wisdom and direction we need to get to know him and walk faithfully with him.

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” – Psalm 119:9-11

The only way to live pure is to know God’s word (the Bible) and guard our lives according to its instruction.

The only way to seek him with our whole hearts is to do so with our whole person: our mind, emotion, and body.

We read his Word, bend our wills in thanksgiving and praise through prayer, and live faithfully in response by offering him our lives and obedience.

The only way to keep our wayward hearts from leading us astray is to put up guardrails by memorizing Scripture.

Even Jesus didn’t face temptation alone. He fought back with Scripture.

Jesus would read Scripture constantly in the synagogues. He knew Scripture because he studied and memorized it.

Then he would often go into desolate places to be alone in prayer.

And so he was faithful to his Father, who said, “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.”

So, if we long to hear God say he’s pleased with us when we pass from this life into the next, we will devour God’s Word. We will read it constantly, and seek it joyfully like food to a starving man.

Then we will respond to the words we read by living a life of humble prayer and joyful dependence on God, living in step with his Spirit and guarding ourselves according to his commandments.

Let’s pray.

PRAYER

Jesus, give us a desire for your Word. Give us joy in your Scripture, and diligence in seeking you through reading the Bible. Show us the power of your promises and commands. And give us the strength to respond to them with faithful obedience. Amen.

DIG DEEPER

Read the Bible right now. 🙂

Why Can’t I Ever Change? – A Sabbath Selah Devotional

Why can't I change?

You know the feeling. You’ve blown up in anger, and said things you regret. You’ve broken your promise, and made a fool of yourself. You’ve fallen short of who you wanted to be, and felt that familiar, growing sense of self-disgust.

What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you seem to change your attitude? It should be simple, right? After all, you’re a Christian. But no matter what you do, you aren’t getting any better.

Scripture, at times, seems to make it sound easy.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” – Galatians 5:16-17

So, now that we’re Christians, it should just be that we live a good life, and that the Spirit will just magically keep us from doing the evil that we’ve wanted to do our whole lives. Right?

But that’s not what we experience. In fact, we experience so much failure when we think in this way that we must grapple with whether or not this passage of Scripture is even true.

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Who Do You Want to Be in 3 Years? – A Sabbath Selah Devotional

Devotional who do you want to be in 3 years?

I like thinking about the future. I hate thinking about the past.

Until I got married, I didn’t know any other normal human functioned differently.

I’ve since come to realize MANY people actually love looking at old pictures of themselves.

Honestly, I’d rather scrub toilets.

Many also rarely spend time actively envisioning the future they want.

I find that pretty weird, because that one activity takes up roughly 20% of my spare brain power.

Many actually prefer either rather living in the present (boring), or dwelling on the past (like Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite: video clip here).

As I’m sure you can already tell, I’m always projecting what I want to accomplish in my career 1, 2, 3 years from now. This includes planning countless contingencies.

That’s why I was stunned when I realized I rarely ever envision how I want to grow spiritually.

Why is that?

I keep trying to answer that question, but over and over find that . . . I just don’t think that deeply about it.

Which is embarrassing to admit.

It’s not that I don’t care deeply about Jesus, or about my spiritual growth. It’s not even that I’m not being self-reflective (I’m overly self-reflective, if anything).

It’s just that I don’t take a very active roll in planning out life changes that will help me obtain the spiritual growth Christ calls us to in the same way that I do for my career.

The more I thought about it, the more disturbed I got. Because I had to admit I put a lot more thought and emotional effort into growing my career than I ever have into my spiritual life (which is about 10,000 times more important).

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Servanthood is Not Slavery – A Sabbath Selah Devotional

devotional on servanthood

It’s fascinating to me that modern portrayals of feminine power tend to show women doing macho things.

Women superheroes show their power by beating up the baddies.

In fantasy settings they don armor, or wield dangerous magic.

And in modern settings, female fighters strut into war like it’s an ice-cream parlor they’re about to destroy for gicks and kiggles (say it out loud and you’ll taste my lame sense of humor).

I don’t know about you, but most of the time these portrayals ring false.

Also, they tend to be boring, and misogynistic.

When I think of my mother, who’s a strong woman, the strength I admire in her never resided in biceps, or a psychopathic willingness to dominate and kill.

And it’s nearly exactly the same with modern portrayals of masculinity.

I never looked up to my father because I perceived that he would throw himself into the frontlines of a war.

The last thing I wanted was a dad who went to war.

I looked up to my dad because he was emotionally strong, because he protected me and guarded me, because he taught me how to live well and modeled it in his own life by serving me and the rest of my family without grumbling.

I looked up to him because he was strong enough to not hurt people.

He never viewed servanthood as slavery. He viewed it as a privilege, and nothing in my life has made me feel more loved.

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You Have Need of Endurance – A Sabbath Selah Devotional

devotional image endurance

“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” – Hebrews 10:35-36

The first casualty in times of upheaval is our confidence in our future. The second is our motivation to continue.

For example, when Covid-19 hit, many of us faced the possibility of losing our jobs (and many more actually DID lose their jobs).

No sane person would tell someone in this situation that they should feel confident in their job stability.

Neither does God tell us that we should feel confidence in him without good reason.

So, let’s pick apart what reasons the author of Hebrews gives the reader to have confidence in God. Then, let’s consider why that should be our motivation to remain faithful to him.

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Male and Female in a Transgender World – A Sabbath Selah Devotional

male and female in a transgender world

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27

This week’s devotional is going to be a bit different.

Because in writing my latest novel, EDEN: Biblical Fiction of the World’s First Family, I have frequently pondered the disparity between the world’s view of gender, and God’s.

Because at the beginning of all things, God wove our sexual identity into his own personhood by saying that he crafted us, male and female, in his own image.

Men were created to reflect an element of God’s personhood. Females were created to reflect another element of God’s personhood. I am convinced this is strong proof of God’s intention that there be only two genders.

Yet the rest of the world seems to think this is not only a dated concept, but a dangerous one.

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